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Retail

Japan's Aeon to increase self-checkouts to ease labor shortage

Smartphone app intended to cut waiting times and costs at 1,000 supermarkets

Aeon will introduce self-checkout registers that can read the prices of items using customer's smartphones at its 1,000 supermarkets. (Photo by Tokuyuki Matsubuchi)

TOKYO -- Japanese retail group Aeon will introduce self-checkout registers that can read the prices of items to its 1,000 supermarkets, the latest effort to cope with a severe lack of manpower.

The new system will debut this year at Aeon's supermarket units: United Super Markets Holdings (USMH), which operates about 520 stores in the Kanto area, including Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures; and AEON Retail, which has about 350 general merchandise stores in Japan's main islands of Honshu and Shikoku, excluding the northern Tohoku region. Approximately 190 Daiei stores will also use the system.

The cost of the introduction is less than 10% of a similar system Amazon already offers, in which customers read tags using their smartphones, according to Aeon. Unlike Amazon’s unmanned store Amazon Go, customers will have to scan products by themselves.

Amazon Go and other foreign retailers are leading in the sector of completely unmanned stores. The cost of opening a new physical store that uses self-checkout registers is as high as hundreds of millions of yen (millions of dollars) due to the many cameras and sensors used to track customers' movements. But the introduction cost at Aeon Retail is estimated to be less than 10 million yen ($100,000) per store, making it easy to carry out.

At USMH, stores will ask customers to download a dedicated app to their smartphone. Aeon Retail will provide rental smartphones at store entrances. Tags are scanned by a customer's phone when they put a product in their shopping cart. Store staffers do not have to read products at cash registers, and it will reduce waiting times in checkout lines -- the time required for self-checkout will be less than one-tenth of the usual time, according to the company.

In the case of USMH, payment will be made automatically using information such as a credit card registered in the app. Shoppers then can leave the store by holding a QR code over a dedicated device. When customers use a rental smartphone, they will transfer the scanned product information to an unmanned cash register and pay with a card, just like at a regular checkout.

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